UA Little Rock teacher coaches girls robotics team in online competition

The Uncut Diamonds

An all-girls high school robotics team coached by a University of Arkansas at Little Rock teacher hopes to get enough votes to earn a trip to the world robotics finals in Louisville, Kentucky. 

Sandra Leiterman, a math specialist in the UA Little Rock Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Educational Center, coaches two robotics teams at Mills High School. In 2016, she also helped start robotics teams at two Little Rock elementary schools, Chicot and Jefferson.

While she was a sixth-grade math teacher at Fuller Middle School, Leiterman started a robotics team in 2011, even though she had no previous robotics experience.

“We needed to do something to get kids more engaged in school,” Leiterman said. “Our first competition was actually a free competition at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. We were the only middle school team competing against about 15 high school teams. We ended up in the middle of the rankings, so the team’s confidence soared.”

After spending a year on the co-ed robotics team, four girls sought permission from their middle school principal to form an all-girls team, and the Uncut Diamonds were born.

Team members consist of Mills High School juniors Jordyn Major, Maddy Barth, and Clare Quaid as well as senior Lauren Stewart. The girls have been on the team since junior high and have been competing together for six years. 

The Uncut Diamonds, from left to right, are Maddy Barth, Clare Quaid, Jordyn Major, and  Lauren Stewart.
The Uncut Diamonds, from left to right, are Maddy Barth, Clare Quaid, Jordyn Major, and Lauren Stewart.

Coaching the girls robotics team has been an inspirational experience for Leiterman, who has watched the girls grow stronger and more confident through the years.

“I have seen the transformations with my own team,” she said. “Getting girls involved at a younger age really boosts their confidence. That is my passion. We have to get more girls involved in math and science, and I want to help everyone I can.”

Quaid, for example, started off sixth grade wanting to be an artist. She had little interest in science but joined the robotics team because Leiterman was one of her favorite teachers. Now, Quaid loves robotics and plans to major in mechanical engineering, Leiterman said.

With one team member, Stewart, graduating in May, the girls hope to make it to the world competition before their six-year-long adventure comes to an end. The girls describe themselves as “four individual girls that came together as a robotics team under the direction of one amazing coach.”

They are spreading their inspirational and empowering story through the Robotics Education and Competition Foundation Online Challenges competition. The winning team has a chance to attend the VEX Robotics World Championship in April.

Voting ends at 2 p.m. Friday, Jan. 27. You can vote for the Uncut Diamonds by visiting this link (http://challenges.robotevents.com/challenge/72/entry/4100) and then clicking on the Login/Register tab on the top left side. Once you have logged in or registered, you will be sent a verification email. After activating your account, you can return to this link and cast your vote for the Uncut Diamonds.

For more information, contact Leiterman at 920.227.8576 or saleiterman@ualr.edu.

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